For over twenty years Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been adamant he would never consider changing the team’s controversial name, a term the Oxford Dictionary describes as “dated and offensive”.
“It’s that simple,” he once told USA TODAY Sports in a brief but heated interview on the topic. "NEVER — you can use caps.”
That was 2013; the year 10 members of the Congressional Native American Caucus formally requested the change in a letter to Snyder and a handful of others at the NFL. In it, the caucus cited the word's turbulent history, identifying it alongside other types of racial slurs:
“In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs...Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”
It was a reasonable, timely argument, set forth in the interest of genuine progress, and Snyder didn’t budge an inch. He didn’t have to, when according to an AP poll conducted at the time, most Americans were still firmly on his side.
Fast-forward seven years, and the cultural landscape has changed in unimaginable ways. With an increased public awareness on racial justice issues following the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, many of the Redskins’ key sponsors are threatening to withdraw support for the team unless Snyder agrees to make the change.
It finally looks to be happening. The truth is, it should’ve happened a long time ago.
For decades Native American activist groups like the National Congress of American Indians, various tribal councils and other civil rights collectives have openly opposed sports teams like the Redskins using Native American mascots and imagery, as such practices largely overlook and even trivialize the complicated plight of Native peoples throughout American history.
When the Boston Braves became the Redskins in 1933, the name was purportedly meant to honor the many Native American players on the team at the time, including Coach William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, who may or may not have actually been of Native American descent.
Like many who have defended the Redskins’ name, Snyder has long maintained that the moniker is an important part of team tradition. Not just the name, but the logo, the "Hail to the Redskins" fight song and the face-painted fans in Native American headdress — players and fans alike experience it as a form of culture.
But this culture isn't theirs to claim.
Historians like the Smithsonian’s Ives Goddard believe the word “redskin” most likely originated from Native Americans themselves, who began using it in the 18th century in order to distinguish themselves racially from “white” European colonists.
What began as a neutral descriptor would unfortunately take on negative connotations however, as white Americans later appropriated the term in the late 19th and 20th centuries in order to suit violent stereotypes abundant in popular media at the time.
Over time the term "redskins" lost its value as a self-identifier for the Native Americans and became instead a label that was ascribed to them by others as a tool of oppression.
Today the term has all-but disappeared from the American lexicon, and there’s no reason it should live on in the name of a white-owned sports team in D.C. To those fans and players mourning the loss of the Washington Redskins: it could be worse. Just ask the Native Americans in this country, who've lost so much more than that.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.